Ireland's The Wha is a project rooted in a deep love of music.
It's what propels the group forwards: this simple, unadulterated thirst for the life-changing pleasures of the three minute pop song.
Moving from garage rehearsals to some seismic live shows, The Wha were recently snapped up by Chess Club Records, who release new single 'Young Skins'.
It's the sound of band living out their dreams - small town kids with bold ambitions, it was produced by the one and only Stephen Street.
A legendary figure in British music, the producer has worked on classic recordings by a host of artists, from The Smiths to Blur and beyond.
Here, The Wha throw some questions at Stephen Street, and unpick a few classics.
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The Smiths - 'Paint A Vulgar Picture'
Finn Cusack: I have such a vivid memory of the first time I heard this song. My Dad showed it to me one morning, a Saturday probably, while explaining the demise of The Smiths. It would be a very hard memory to forget.
The intro is unmistakable, as the opening chords dangle over the solitary drum machine. What a fucking intro. A statement already made, and the singer hasn't even started crooning. Enter Morrissey's cynicism. The perfect antithesis to the buyoncy and vibrancy of Marr's guitars. And of course, Joyce and Rourke are as tightly knit as ever.
It’s these unique combinations that made The Smiths who they were, and Stephen plays into this perfectly with the succinct production. He leaves enough room for everything to be heard. It's a portal to a different world, a world where the perfect band are produced by the perfect producer. Then the lead break. Somehow euphoric, despite the topic of the song.
The simple act of stripping the instrumentation down to a drum machine and a clap let Marr's guitar flourish and send the listener into a momentary state of transcendence, and just as you remember where you are, the rest of the band kick back in to take you home. Flawless. It's one of the most definitive Smiths tunes for me.
Stephen Street accentuates all the key components of The Smiths, presents them clearly and eloquently and leaves you wishing that outro just went on forever. The picture he paints is anything but vulgar.
Stephen Street: By this point in the band's career, Morrissey and Johnny had often not completely finished and played through the songs they had written before going into the studio. This song being one of those, the backing track was laid down without anyone really knowing what Morrissey was going to sing on it.
It's quite a circular chord pattern without an obvious verse, bridge, chorus structure and it wasn't until Morrissey put his vocal down that we knew what we were dealing with. Morrissey left a gap and it was obvious that 'something' had to be put in it so Johnny played a 'solo'.
Bear in mind that despite Johnny's genius as a guitarist he was not known as a 'soloist' so it was a bit of a first! I remember Johnny building it up as we went along with me 'dropping in' on the tape machine as we pieced it together.
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Morrissey - 'Late Night Maudlin Street'
Sam Cullen: A sandwich of melancholy sounds.
The song begins with an acoustic guitar, an instrument Street has always managed to make sound angelic but sedimentary and stable.
A drum track that intrigues the listener from the outset. I assume it's some sort of found sound creation of his. The one beat sounds like a door being firmly shut, the four beat sounds like the clatter of sheet metal or dirty pans being gracefully chucked on the floor with a microphone at its side, and panning between left and right are these soft uses of percussion rocking us back and forth. Marek and I are confused as to what drum machines he is using, if any at all.
On top of all that is Morrissey whispering and crooning clippings of melody and verse into our ears with this dreamy echo that produces this regression of child-like warmth and comfort. Within the first ten seconds you, as a listener, are transported to a time and place, which is the power of a great producer like Street. Street creates this slow moving space by introducing new instruments one at a time.
After the first minute of the song we get to hear the bass, sliding from octave to root like a boy on a banister. The verse after that we get a piano line. I have no idea how he made it sound so fucking beautiful. Again nothing is deducting from the vocals, only adding to the soundscape which surrounds them. The piano line is this arpeggiated, twinkling sound that feels like a slow motion shower, trickling onto the soft spots of your mind, it's simply FUCKING HEAVENLY.
It serves the purpose of seducing you a little further into the song, revitalising itself within the slow consistent repetition of its music, and at the same time making the track sound fuller.
But soon after the piano is gone and we’re introduced to this shimmering electric guitar echoing from right to left. It starts playing low and ascends into this quivering almost awkward sigh of relief. Its tone matches the vibe of the song, again adding another, perhaps cooler shade to the soundscape of the piece. A verse later we enter this stalling middle eighth where we can hear the trimble beginnings of what will be the acoustic drums entering the song, and when they do, man does it fucking slap. Thank God it doesn’t just play a straight beat.
The drums start soloing, start accentuating off-beats and marching, they don’t over play, that is because they don’t need to, for the vocals have cut-out and it's all the listener is listening to at that moment. The drums die down appropriately and the vocals return in full form for a final verse and then we fade out into silence.
Stephen Street: One of the later songs written for 'Viva Hate' and one of my favourites. Morrissey mentioned to me that he wanted me to contribute a song in the style of Joni Mitchell. This surprised me as he had never mentioned his admiration of her to me before, but thinking back and seeing how brilliant she was as a lyricist it's obvious a young Morrissey would have been a fan.
I noticed that many of Joni's songs were rambling opuses often with a lot of space and often hung on an interesting percussive rhythm. I therefore started with a percussive loop that I made up out of samples (the bass drum on beat one is a sample from a Prince record)! Over this I laid a circular chord sequence with a sliding bass line that left lots of space. This same loop was used on the final recording and again, once Morrissey laid down his vocal I knew what I was dealing with. Vini Reilly added his lovely delicate guitar and piano fills to support the vocal performance.
We could not decide what to do with the drums. When Andrew Paressi tried to overdub anything earlier it seemed to be intrusive and so that's why they do not enter until the coda at the end. I was mortified that when the album was last remastered Morrissey asked the mastering engineer to fade out quickly on this section! Listen to the original mix to hear the beauty of Andrew's playing on the outro!
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Blur - 'M.O.R.'
Abe G. Harris: A lot of my growing up was done listening to Blur, and so I was trying to get my head around the fact that we were actually recording with the right hand man who was behind Britain's defining albums of the 80s and 90s, and am still trying to this day.
'M.O.R.' is a classic Blur song, off a classic Blur album, very driving as all the instruments individually join in, and then the call and response vocals begin, as the song slowly builds up. Like many Blur songs, it combines comedy, quality and rock and roll and condenses it into three and a half minutes of enjoyment for the whole family. I thought it reminded me of a David Bowie song, so I looked it up and, hey presto, Blur borrowed the chord progression from Bowie's 'Boys Keep Swinging', so it's somewhat of a tribute.
I just think it's a Blur song in every way; pop-y, catchy, and the fact that it all comes back to you as soon as you hear the first few seconds of the song. The sound they managed to produce with Stephen Street on 'Blur' I think is totally unique, and you find that what sticks with you over the years are the sounds and production as well as the tunes themselves.
I feel as if a lot of the vocals and sounds Street and the band were able to produce carried on throughout a lot of Albarn's later work, which may not have existed if it wasn't for Stephen Street's production style and presence for their last four albums.
Stephen Street: Built up on a very insistent rhythm that in the verses is very similar to Bowie's 'Boys Keep Swinging'. In fact it was too close, Bowie's solicitors got in touch!
It starts with Graham Coxon getting very clever with his guitar pedals setting the tremolo setting to a fast gated setting that gives the rhythm at the end of each line. He would step on and off his pedals exactly in time when putting this down and was an effect he used often (see 'Oily Water' below)!
I love the way the chorus soars when it comes in and give Alex's bass playing a close listen the next time you play the track, it really is very good!
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Marek: I'm not gonna lie, I haven't heard much of Stephens work outside of Smiths / Moz and 'The Best Of Blur' but I had a few listens to 'Modern Life Is Rubbish' and it's sleek banger after sleeker banger.
I wanna know if there's anything special Stephen remembers about 'Star Shaped', I like how almost math rocky it gets and all the lovely little bells you can hear towards the end and the outro itself. I also wanna know what went on during the recording of 'The Intermission' cause I feel if The Wha had a piano we'd be well up for weird craic like that.
And please tell me everything about 'Oily Water' I wanna know it all!
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Blur - 'Star Shaped'
Stephen Street: A real beauty this one! One of my favourites from 'Modern Life Is Rubbish'. A wonderful chord structure and everyone played so beautifully on it.
The woodwind on it is a cor anglais played by the lovely Kate St. John of the Dream Academy. I remember thinking when we recorded this that there was something very special about Blur and I had no doubt that better was to come. How right I was!
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'Young Skins' is out now.
Photo Credit: Nick O'Donnell
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